Pieces of Madison’s past
What follows are several artifacts, photographs and documents in the possession of the state historical society that illuminate important chapters in the history of Madison.
A tour of the massive $47 million, 188,000-square-foot State Archive Preservation Facility on the near east side is overwhelming. One room alone contains a 1969 Wienermobile, a Marc’s Big Boy restaurant statue, a Green Bay Packers-themed fishing shanty and a Tommy Bartlett boat once capable of pulling nine water-skiers.
On the fourth floor a vast collection of furniture is arrayed on the highest shelves — including John Muir’s boyhood rocking chair and a prototype of a Memorial Union terrace chair. Beneath that is everything from a Wadhams gas station pagoda-style roof, circa 1930, a 1941 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead motorcycle and Wisconsin’s first lottery ball drawing machine, circa 1992.
And these are just a few of the more than one million items the Wisconsin Historical Society moved into the secure, climate-controlled facility over the course of 15 months ending last June. What was previously stored at several sites has been consolidated at the two-building complex with objects belonging to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and the Governor’s Executive Residence.
The historical society collection includes 105,000 three-dimensional artifacts and another 400,000 archaeological objects. And the collection is ever-growing, says state archivist Matt Blessing. “Between library and archives, we have about 15 years of growth capacity,” Blessing says, adding that the society receives the equivalent of 4,000 boxes of documents and manuscripts from government agencies and private donors every year.
It’s not surprising then that much of what is known about early life in Madison is due to the presence of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which was established in 1846 — two years before Wisconsin became a state. From the beginning, says Ruth and Hartley Barker Director and CEO at the Wisconsin Historical Society Christian Overland, “the idea of this organization [was to create] a place that acts as a repository and creates access to the notions of the Founding Fathers and the birth of our country.”
The size and scope of the society’s collection is second only to that of the Library of Congress and, in some respects, the Smithsonian Institution, Overland says. But to grasp the enormity of the society’s holdings — such as its collection of colonial newspapers, Civil Rights-era manuscripts, world-class genealogy resources or its 600 pieces of fine art — people have to feel connected to it.
“All history is local,” he says. “So you come at it from the point of view, ‘What does it mean for me?’ If you see things you can connect with or you didn’t know about, well that’s fascinating. Then you can take off from there.”
So much of what is stored at the facility is never seen by the public. To address that, the society’s next major project will be to expand the Wisconsin History Museum on Capitol Square so it triples the exhibit space. The $120 million project is expected to be completed in 2024 or 2025.
“When we build the new museum, it’s going to have a local history component for all 72 counties in the state,” Overland says. “But it will have the context of the national story in it, too. So visitors will go, ‘Wow, I never knew Madison did this to a national level and this was the impact.’ I think that’s going to be a differentiator for us as a museum in the United States.”
What follows are several artifacts, photographs and documents in the possession of the state historical society that illuminate important chapters in the history of Madison. While these selections provide glimpses into the city’s past, they do not touch on every watershed moment. If our archivist-led tour of the vast state preservation facility convinced us of anything it is that countless stories about our past remain to be told.
Mound Builders and Preservers
Excavations undertaken by the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, or WAS — established in 1901 under the auspices of the state historical society — have found evidence that Native Americans inhabited the area of the Four Lakes region as far back as 13,000 years ago.
Starting 2,500 years ago and continuing for the next 1,600 years was a prolific period of mound-building for ceremonial and burial purposes, suggesting that people shared a complex nature-based worldview. Many built in the shape of birds, mammals and humans, some 15,000 mounds have been identified in Wisconsin with the highest concentration in the vicinity of the Four Lakes — consisting of lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa along the Yahara River.
Present-day Madison was in fact the “heart of the effigy mound region,” writes former Wisconsin State Archaeologist Robert Birmingham in his 2010 book “Spirits of Earth: The Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes.”
Nine hundred years after the Mound Builders, the Ho-Chunk occupied the area. Treaties signed in the 1830s opened the region to white settlement, but the landscape indicated Europeans were late on the scene.
Many effigy mounds did not survive the city’s early development. But the remaining mounds found a champion in WAS founder Charles E. Brown, who arrived in Madison in 1908. He lobbied for public acquisition of mounds, convinced city officials to include them in parks and persuaded the Legislature to pass the state’s first law protecting archaeological sites. Brown served on the first advisory committee for the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum and led mound restoration efforts on campus and elsewhere.
“No one single person did more to document and preserve the mounds of Madison and the Four Lakes than Charles E. Brown,” Birmingham wrote.
Brown’s legacy includes a state archaeology office that maintains an electronic database of more than 30,000 mounds and other sites of archaeological significance throughout the state. Mounds are now identified as burial sites under state law and their disturbance is subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
City Off to a Rocky Start
Madison founding father James Duane Doty was many things: a lawyer, judge, long-distance paddling explorer, Wisconsin promoter within the Legislature of the Michigan Territory (which included Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and a large portion of the Dakotas) and a land speculator.
Doty was acting in those latter two roles when he lobbied for the territorial capital to be located on Madison’s isthmus, much of which he owned and then bought and sold to lawmakers and dignitaries. In 1836, Doty and his surveyor hastily drew the plat map above to help seal the Madison-as-the-capital deal. It worked. But the plat “spawned a legacy of legal problems,” according to David Mollenhoff in his book “Madison: A History of the Formative Years.”
The plat map included inaccurate lot sizes and some lots that were, in actuality, underwater. In 1841, Doty fended off a legal challenge questioning his right to sell Madison lots. Nevertheless, the title dispute would adversely affect development on the isthmus for years.
This heavy, ornamented bronze cast and steel-lined cuspidor, or spittoon, was one of many that once sat on the office floors of lawmakers at the state Capitol. Chewing and spitting smokeless tobacco was common among those who held power between 1915 (when the cuspidors were first cast by an unknown company) and 1955, when the Capitol’s stock of 167 was sold off for $10 each.
In private hands, the dispersed Capitol spittoons still crop up as handsome doorstops and mantel pieces and are the subject of cocktail chatter.
Hard Times for Rosaline Peck
Forgive Rosaline Peck for looking less than jovial in 1857, but she was having a bad day. In fact, you could say Peck had a rough couple of decades after her arrival in Madison in 1837 — as the pioneer city’s first white woman settler.
Peck and her growing family moved from Vermont to Blue Mounds in 1836, a year before it was announced that Madison was to be the new territorial capital. Peck was then 29 and four months pregnant. The wife of Eben Peck, she was also the mother of a 10-year-old son named Victor. The couple soon bought two lots near Capitol Square for $100 each. They then hired a man to build two 18-by-24-foot log cabins on their property, one of which they opened as a public house for the workers coming to construct the Capitol building.
In addition to her duties as an innkeeper, Rosaline Peck played violin for the guests at the public house as well as at festivals and weddings. But a year after opening their establishment, the Pecks sold it and bought an 80-acre plot a mile outside of Madison. They cleared it for use as a farm, only to find out that the seller of the land — James Doty — had deeded them the wrong land. (See “City Off to a Rocky Start”)
Soon after the Pecks moved to Baraboo in 1840 and bought and improved some farmland there, Eben Peck abandoned his family to marry another woman in Texas. And shortly after that, Rosaline Peck and her children were turned out of their home by another land speculator.
Seventeen years later, Rosaline Peck traveled to Madison from Baraboo to have the above portrait taken, but the journey dragged on for three days because her rented rig got stuck and broke down repeatedly. To make matters worse, as she waited to have her picture taken, she read a description of herself in an 1855 edition of a Madison business directory that angered her: She was portrayed as a mere fiddler. “Bah. Did you ever hear such trash?” Rosaline Peck reportedly said.
After sitting for the portrait, she endured a terrible return trip home. Her wagon’s axle broke and she incurred nearly $50 in travel expenses. “So much for gratifying the public with my face,” she said, according to Madison history author David Mollenhoff.
Rosaline Peck died in Baraboo on Oct. 20, 1899, at the age of 92.
A crowd of men and women inside Fauerbach Brewing Co. tavern at 651 Williamson St. celebrated the end of Prohibition in this photo taken on April 7, 1933.
That was the day the Cullen-Harrison Act took effect and legalized 3.2% ABV beer.
Two days earlier, the brewery had placed an ad in the Wisconsin State Journal pledging to have beer available. Reportedly 5,000 people showed up that day, according to the Fauerbach Brewery website. A full repeal of Prohibition would follow on Dec. 5, 1933, with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.
Thirteen years of Prohibition had crushed countless other breweries and saloons. Fauerbach Brewing Co. not only survived but was ready on day one to start brewing beer again.
Backing up a bit to 1848 — mere months before Madison transitioned from the territorial capital to the capital of the new state of Wisconsin — 17-year-old Peter Fauerbach left Bavaria, Germany, for New York. He moved to New Lisbon, Wisconsin, with relatives, the Bierbauers, where they opened the H. Bierbauer Brewery. Fauerbach moved to Madison in 1868 where he leased and later bought the Sprecher Brewery. (Frederic Sprecher, Madison’s first brewer, is “probably not” an ancestor of Randy Sprecher, who in 1985 founded Sprecher Brewery Co. in Milwaukee, according to Anne Sprecher, Randy Sprecher’s wife and communications manager for the company.)
Fauerbach gave the brewery his family name and ran it until his death in 1886. His widow, Maria, took over the business.
After incorporating in 1890, the Fauerbach Brewing Co. grew and expanded at its location in the 600 block of Williamson Street. Seeing Prohibition on the horizon, however, the brewery started making alternative drinks, including Fä-Bä, a hoppy-tasting but “wholesome, nonintoxicating beverage.”
Having nonalcoholic beverage lines made it easier to switch back to brewing beer after Prohibition ended. The company kept a foot in the soda aisle by becoming a bottler for Pepsi-Cola in 1936. The 30 years that followed were Fauerbach’s best, with sales expanding throughout the Midwest and production peaking at 75,000 barrels a year.
Fauerbach was ultimately unable to compete with larger national brands and closed in 1966. The brewery buildings were torn down a year later. The site would remain empty until construction, in 1978, of the Fauerbach Condominiums — which still stand just north of Machinery Row Bicycles.
A couple Fauerbach beers made brief comebacks from 2005 to 2009 and in 2016, brewed by Gray’s Brewing Co. in Janesville and Wisconsin Brewing Co. in Verona, respectively.
‘Everyone Would Be in Love With Me-ee-ee’
Richard Trentlage had an advantage when he learned of Oscar Mayer’s 1962 contest seeking a commercial jingle that would help sell the company’s hot dogs — with a deadline for submissions less than 24 hours away. Trentlage, as it happens, was in the ad jingle business as owner of Adver/Sonic Productions Inc., a Chicago-based company. He had already written music for clients such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
Trentlage wrote what would become possibly the most successful jingle in history: the Oscar Mayer “Wiener Song.” Go ahead, sing along.
“Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,
That is what I’d truly like to be-ee-ee.
‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me-ee-ee.”
Using the banjo-ukulele — a hybrid instrument with the body of a banjo and the neck of a ukulele — Trentlage taught the song to his wife and four of their five children. After recording them playing and singing the song, he dropped the tape off at Oscar Mayer’s ad company the next morning.
More than a year would pass before Trentlage learned his song had been chosen. The company president reportedly requested that the ad man’s children be professionally recorded singing the tune. Oscar Mayer used the single in advertising until 2010.
The “Wiener Song” would help sell millions of hot dogs nationwide — made by thousands of workers employed for decades at Oscar Mayer’s sprawling factory in Madison. Trentlage, who said royalties for the song helped pay his kids’ college tuition, died Sept. 21, 2016, at the age of 87.
Neighborhood Comings and Goings
The Greenbush area of Madison — between South Randall Avenue and South Park Street (south of Regent Street) and bordered by Henry Vilas Zoo and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum — no longer resembles the low-income, majority Italian- and Eastern European-immigrant neighborhood it was in 1916. Largely due to the upheaval of urban renewal efforts in the 1960s, nearly all of the original homes are gone, and standing in their place is UnityPoint Health – Meriter and SSM Health St. Mary’s hospitals, large apartment complexes and many single-family homes.
The Neighborhood House was established in 1916, initially to provide public assistance to majority Italian immigrant residents. It grew to serve as a civic center offering English-language and citizenship classes and organizing social clubs. The Neighborhood House Community Center, currently located at 29 S. Mills St., celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016.
By the 1940s, Neighborhood House was surrounded by a more diverse working-class population and offered programs for all ages. One example was the American Youth Hostel biking trips small groups of teenage girls would take, leaving from and returning to Neighborhood House.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has a charming scrapbook detailing those summer trips between 1940 and 1949. The trip highlights are neatly handwritten or typed and include tiny black-and-white photos of happy girls with their bikes, taking snack breaks and goofing around. Noted are the destinations and distances they biked (in June 1940 a group pedaled to Cross Plains, where they stayed overnight at a hostel before returning, a 55-mile journey) and how much they spent on food and the days’ menus.
The scrapbook is a window into the lives of young women seeking independence and adventure — some
of whom learned how to ride their heavy, borrowed bikes shortly before going on the trips.
“It was created by the young girls themselves,” says Lee Grady, senior reference archivist for the Wisconsin Historical Society. “We don’t have a lot of documents by kids — certainly not from kids who were not from wealthy families. [The scrapbook is] unusual and that’s why we value it so much. It documents the voices of people not often heard.”
The homemade bomb that tore into Sterling Hall on the UW–Madison campus in the wee hours of August 24, 1970 — killing postgraduate student Robert Fassnacht — dramatically altered the anti-war movement and prompted an international manhunt that still hasn’t ended.
Little remained of the stolen van after its 2,000-pound payload of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil was set off by four members of the radical group New Year’s Gang. They targeted Sterling Hall because it housed the Army Mathematics Research Center, believed to be helping develop U.S. weapons used in Vietnam. The AMRC suffered only minor damage from the bombing, but the physics department where Fassnacht was working, was destroyed.
News reports said the explosion was so big — it caused $6 million in damages to 26 buildings in total — that it was heard in Belleville 30 miles away. Pieces of the van were supposedly found on top of an eight-story building three blocks away. However, the Wisconsin Historical Society says the engine fragment is the largest known remnant of the van.
Three of the four bombers — Karl and Dwight Armstrong and David Fine — were convicted, went to prison and have since been paroled. Leo Burt was never apprehended and is believed to be either dead or living somewhere under an assumed identity.
By the time of the bombing in 1970, student opposition to the Vietnam War had been simmering for years, resulting in violent clashes with police in riot gear. In 1967, Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, focused much of its ire on Dow Chemical Co. as the manufacturer of napalm, an incendiary gel used by U.S. forces in Vietnam.
Dow’s efforts on campus to recruit potential employees were met with massive resistance by students on Oct. 18, 1967. “The Battle of Dow” started with about 250 antiwar activists obstructing the job interviews in UW–Madison’s Commerce Building. City police, wielding batons, cleared the building and continued clubbing protesters outside. Thousands of angry students gathered as the police resorted to using tear gas for the first time on campus. “It was the country’s first university protest to turn violent, and it had profound repercussions,” read a book excerpt from Stu Levitan’s “Madison in the Sixties” that appeared in Madison Magazine in June 2017.
A photo taken at the riot was made into a poster and distributed by the Madison underground newspaper Connections. Printed on it was a quote from then-President Lyndon Johnson: “Our foreign policy must always be an extension of this nation’s domestic policy. Our safest guide to what we do abroad is a good look at what we are doing at home.”
The pushback students faced from local authorities as the war dragged on in Southeast Asia radicalized some people, including the young men who bombed Sterling Hall two and a half years later. Historians say the bombing had a sobering effect on the anti-war movement.
A Room of Their Own
State preservation facility includes unique suite for Native Americans to interact with artifacts.
One small room in the east wing of the secure, climate-controlled State Archive Preservation Facility, or SAPF, remained empty last fall, waiting to be used for its intended purpose — to accommodate Native American tribal members wishing to interact with items in the state’s possession that are important
to their culture.
The first-floor room is large enough to comfortably fit 12 people seated in a circle around a stone pedestal, on which traditional medicines may be burned or smudged. A floor tile includes a compass to orient those in the room to the four cardinal directions.
The room opens onto a small, gated patch of grass with a fire ring. Come spring, this small area will see the planting of cedar, sage, tobacco and sweetgrass — four traditional medicines — that can be harvested by tribal members and used in their ceremonies on-site.
The bike path along the Yahara River is visible just beyond the American Indian Cultural Care Suite, as the indoor and outdoor space is designated.
According to Christian Overland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director and CEO at the Wisconsin Historical Society, no other state or federal museum has a space similar to the cultural care suite at the SAPF — other than the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Norbert Hill Jr., former director of education for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, served on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s board of curators for 12 years ending in 2018. He was also on the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian, located on the mall in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see,” Hill says about the care suite at the Madison facility. “It’s a place for Indians to be heard and build trust.”
Hill says institutions like WHS need to make such accommodations for tribes. “They can’t stay static and just house artifacts,” he says.
The SAPF care suite is the result of extensive planning, starting in 2008, with representatives of the 12 American Indian tribes in Wisconsin. How the tribes will use the space may differ based on their own traditions, but neither the historical society nor any other state agency will seek to set parameters on its usage.
“It’s not my history, it’s theirs,” Overland says. “We developed this to facilitate their needs. There are things they do not explain that we do not witness.”
Rebecca Comfort, the American Indian Nations liaison at the Wisconsin Historical Society, says this approach is necessary to create a relationship of trust with tribes that has not existed between them and U.S. collectors of American Indian artifacts for much of the last 200 years.
“There’s a lot of disagreement over how objects should be held, displayed or not displayed,” Comfort says.
Museum officials and tribal members continue to grapple with the reality of museums possessing indigenous artifacts — having obtained them by a variety of unethical means. In the meantime, Comfort says the significance of the items themselves is at risk of being lost and forgotten.
“Objects are not inanimate,” she says. And many Native American objects were meant “to be activated in the way they were created and intended.”
Drums, for instance, are considered by tribes to be “living beings that need to be fed and treated with acknowledgement, love and attentiveness,” she says.
Tribal elders, Comfort says, are revered as the cultural and spiritual leaders of their communities and “the only ones who can guide care and preservation of these objects. That’s why consultation with them has been so important.”
Big-Time Drummer Boy
Seeing The Who perform on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1967 convinced 12-year-old Butch Vig to become a drummer. Soon after, the future percussionist for the rock band Garbage received his older cousin Carl Gulbrandson’s drum kit — the same Ludwig Drum Co. model played by Ringo Starr with the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
The drum kit would serve Vig well for years as it traveled with him from his hometown of Viroqua to Madison, where he was a UW–Madison student and drummer in several seminal local bands and a music producer at Smart Studios on the east side. Co-founded by Vig and Steve Marker, Smart Studios would produce records for scores of local alternative bands and national acts, including Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
Vig played these drums in the Madison bands Spooner and Fire Town — and possibly Garbage, the rock band that made it big worldwide in the 1990s — before they became the house drums at Smart Studios for 15 years. When the studio was closed in 2010, Vig donated the drum kit to the state historical society.
If those drums could talk. Wait, they can — and have — on so many recordings.
Gone Too Soon
Madison native and comic actor Chris Farley wore this jacket in the 1996 film “Black Sheep” — widely acknowledged as the less funny follow-up to “Tommy Boy,” the other film Farley starred in with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum David Spade. In “Black Sheep,” Farley’s character, Mike Donnelly, is the buffoonish brother of Washington state gubernatorial candidate Al Donnelly, played by Tim Matheson. It’s Matheson’s likeness that appears on the buttons on the jacket that is now in the historical society’s collection.
Farley did his own stunts in the movie, including being dragged behind a car while wearing the jacket in one scene. That may explain “a significant tear in the right sleeve’s elbow” and the fact that “one of the buttons on the front has had part of its design scraped off,” according to a description of the jacket on the historical society’s website.
A year and a half after the film came out, on Dec. 18, 1997, Farley was found dead from a drug overdose in his Chicago apartment. He had battled drug addiction for years and was only 33 when he died.
From 1998 to 2012, Farley’s brother Tom Farley Jr. ran the Chris Farley Foundation, which was dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse. In 2008, Tom Farley Jr. coauthored the biography “The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts,” the cover of which is a photograph of Farley wearing the “Black Sheep” jacket with the buttons digitally removed.
Chris Farley is fondly remembered as a student at Edgewood High School (his football jersey is also in the historical society collection) and Marquette University. He was seen as a promising comedian at the Ark Improv Theatre in Madison before he left for Chicago, where a stint at The Second City comedy club led to his unforgettable time on “SNL” from 1990 to 1995.
Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.